Northern Ireland Challenged to Defeat Domestic Abuse Injustice

#thecourtsaid is the campaign for survivor family justice.  It provides a network of support and advice for women that have suffered domestic abuse and are going through the secretive, patriarchal family court system. 

It has become increasingly apparent that this vital network is needed for victims of domestic abuse here in Northern Ireland.  #thecourtsaid is dedicated to challenging the way domestic abuse, and it’s victims, are viewed by the family court.  

It has become increasingly apparent that women and children are under threat from the nefarious fathers’ rights movement (FRM).  These groups are hoodwinking our politicians, judiciary and the general public, with their parental alienation narrative. Parental Alienation allegations are the weapon of choice for domestic abusers in the Family Court, and women in particular are at risk.

At present, no one is challenging them, here, in Northern Ireland.  The document Nineteen child Homicides published by Bristol Women’s Aid in 2016 and a previous document, Twenty-six Child Homicides published by Women’s Aid in 2004, emphasizes the dangers and the arrogance of the family court’s drive for contact at all costs. It is understood that within Northern Ireland, the family court, social services and other agencies are not working together and too often evidence is ignored by judges. 

It is a common misconception that once a woman has fled the perpetrator of violence, that she is free and her world will be that of sunshine and lollipops, this could not be further from the truth for those victims with children.  For thousands of women, leaving the perpetrator is the most dangerous time, the risk of murder is at its highest. Our justice system should punish such heinous crime, but women and their children are being failed by a system that is steeped in misogyny. Abusers will never be satisfied until they see their victim crushed, or worse.  When they do not have their victim to control and the victim finds her voice, the abuser will use the children to punish the victim for leaving. 

Most women view their children as more cherished than their own selves; abusers are aware of this and will use that to their advantage within the family court.  The Family Court does not protect these mothers; indeed, it provides a platform for the abuser to further his abuse, through the very system, that is supposed to protect them. 

When women leave their abuser, they will seek help. Here in Northern Ireland women will be directed to Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid can allocate a support worker to assist these women through the initial phase of leaving their abuser. Women’s aid provides invaluable support and listen to women and their stories and carry them through the uncertain and frightening time post separation. Most relationships that breakdown do not end up in family court. When abuse isn’t a factor, partners can talk and agree on a way forward with child arrangements. This is not a viable option when there has been abuse in a relationship. Despite this, the family court will usually request inappropriate mediation in these circumstances. 

Nobody expects to be disbelieved, especially after years of abuse. The abused are already speaking from a place of inequality and they are then made to feel that they are liars. This is exactly what happens to victims in the family court. Not only are they disbelieved, they are blamed for the very abuse that they suffered. This is unacceptable and one of the many factors that #thecourtsaidNI campaign is hoping to change. 

Solicitors will sometimes advise victims not to disclose their abuse, as it is well documented that the FRM have encouraged fathers to allege parental alienation, for which there are a plethora of ‘experts’ to stand in court to attest to this phenomena, yet there are no experts called upon from the domestic abuse sector. In fact, a terrified and traumatised woman is often left alone in court, with no support, facing her abuser in the same waiting room. 

The fear of just being so close to the abuser can cause panic attacks. I saw a woman collapse in the waiting room, from sheer terror! Moreover, women will have decades of complicated, frightening abuse minimised to a paragraph by a solicitor that has had meagre training in domestic abuse and trauma. This indicates that more training is required by the multiple agencies that involve themselves in these cases. Refuge state that women cite the fear of losing their children as a reason for not reporting abuse to the police and are often afraid of counter allegations being made by the perpetrator.

Another major problem that is faced by the abused family is the lack of time and substance of assessment awarded to the child’s wishes and feelings. The Children Act 1989 and The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) both indicate that a child’s wishes, and feelings are paramount when the court proceedings involve them. However, most Child Court Officers (CCOs) will conduct a 15-minute (30minutes if you’re lucky) assessment of the child. How can anyone achieve a proper assessment of a traumatised child in this short space of time? The younger the child, the worse this situation is and again, the victim will be blamed for causing the child to be afraid of the abusive father.  Promoting the pro contact culture and ignoring the child has been cited by so many women and it is an issue #thecourtsaidNI is determined to address. 

Do you resonate with this? Have you or your children been affected by abuse? Are you currently going through the family court in Northern Ireland and feel hopeless? Join our campaign, together we are stronger! 

Julie Marinescu

#thecourtsaidNI Leader

Contact #thecourtsaid in Northern Ireland:

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